Pedaling on the Central Valley Greenway

Under the SkyTrain guideway just east of Rupert station, Vancouver.

It would be nice, perhaps, if cycling was the dominant mode of transportation in our West Coast urban world. We’ll never know. In reality, most people cringe at the idea of riding side-by-side with cars and trucks.

Winston Street through industrial Burnaby, 11:30 a.m. Saturday

When I told a 60-something friend about my plan to pedal across Vancouver and Burnaby for fun, she said, “That’s dangerous!” I said, “No, we’ll be riding an off-road trail. Local governments built a safe route from downtown Vancouver to New West.”

I was wrong, or wrongish. Much of the Central Valley Greenway is off-road, and some of it is wonderfully green, but five kilometres on our ride followed a dotted-line lane along industrial Winston Street — booming with heavy trucks (I imagine) on a week day. We were lucky to have chosen Saturday morning for our trip, when Winston Street is more like a quiet rural road.

Just east of Winston my sister and co-tourist Morna McLeod and I deserted the Central Valley Greenway for a different route, so I’ll offer just a couple of comments on the east Vancouver and Burnaby stretches. Average Joe Cyclist provides a definitive guide to the Greenway, with a video.  Blogger Maggie calls the 24-kilometre trail “challenging but very interesting.” Colleen Macdonald has a shorter piece on

Still Creek east of Gilmore

Approaching Sperling-Burnaby Lake station

From where we began our trip at Commercial Drive, the Greenway passes through a zone of detached homes that have evolved from trackside to gentrified in the past 20 years. But the landscape soon becomes industrial, however, with continuous views of railway track and fencing. You skirt the doorways of the Renfrew and Rupert SkyTrain stations, creating potential for conflict between cyclists and pedestrians, although Morna says she has not seen any problems as an occasional user of the trail.

Crossing into Burnaby at Boundary Road, you begin to notice sections of Still Creek. Much of the creek was paved over in the industrial boom of the mid 20th century, but it is slowly being uncovered, and the salmon have apparently returned. After a bridge crossing of Winston Street by the Sperling-Burnaby Lake station, the trail takes a long detour to the south through a landscaped industrial subdivision. We stopped for a cake-and-cherries break at Warner Loat Park, on the edge of the much larger Burnaby Lake Regional Park, and soon after this we left the Greenway for the Burnaby Mountain Urban Trail and the Burquitlam neighbourhood.

Commercial Skytrain station on the Millennium line

Central Valley Greenway east of Commercial Drive

First evidence of Still Creek looking west from Gilmore

Vintage industrial sheds across the rail tracks from Still Creek Drive. The lettering on the abandoned bus says “Vancouver Sightseeing”

Municipal plantings at the City of Burnaby recycling depot

Separated pathway along industrial Still Creek Drive

Cycling bridge to Sperling-Burnaby Lake station

Revisiting the Heights

Confederation Park, Burnaby Heights, Friday morning

At the suggestion of a reader, I returned to Burnaby Heights this past week, five years after my first visit to the community.

Hastings Street in northwest Burnaby is the city’s most interesting commercial strip, with an array of ethnic food outlets, cafes and specialty shops. The urban trees have grown up quickly, providing cover for architectural flaws. The border with the City of Vancouver is just blocks away, with frequent bus service to downtown. Burnaby’s city government has laid on excellent services such as playing fields, an aquatic centre and a big library. All this makes a great foundation for an urban village, if you’re prepared for the heavy traffic and noise as you shop or stroll. Continue reading

They’re stackin’ ’em in at Brentwood

Space between apartment towers off Rosser Avenue in Burnaby’s Brentwood district, looking to Gilmore

A rendering of the Shape Properties “Amazing Brentwood” development plan as published in VanCity Buzz

The City of Burnaby is on track to win an award, if it exists, for the most extreme residential densification in western Canada.

Tower development at Metrotown has leapt into an affordable rental housing zone and displaced hundreds of long-term tenants. People protesting against these “demovictions” occupied the office of Mayor Derek Corrigan in early March. At Lougheed Town Centre further east, Shape Properties has set up a site office for “The City of Lougheed”, promising 23 or more “stunning high-rise towers” in close proximity, stretching as high as 55 storeys. The same developer has started construction on “Amazing Brentwood”, depicted here, to include 11 residential towers as well as a redeveloped shopping mall and street-facing retail space. Continue reading

Demolition in a vintage rental neighbourhood

High Style Living

Five years after tower construction first jumped the Skytrain line at Metrotown, the City of Burnaby continues to enable the destruction of 1950s and ’60s era rental housing in the area.

Rick McGowan, a neighbourhood activist and townhome owner, estimates that 560 rental units have been replaced by owner-occupied condo towers, or are slated for demolition. More worrying, he says, is the fact that there is no end in sight. Continue reading

Walking in circles at Lougheed Town Centre

The Lougheed Town Centre mall with 1970s apartment towers

The Lougheed Town Centre mall with 1970s apartment towers

Who would choose a mall parking lot as a place to take a walk?

By the common definition, Lougheed Town Centre is a second-tier mall at the eastern edge of the city of Burnaby, with a Walmart and a London Drugs. Alternatively, it’s a nearby rapid transit station and a different set of parking lots. Continue reading

Accepting the shift in Burnaby Edmonds

Residential towers adjacent to the High Gate Centre, Edmonds

Residential towers at Highgate, Edmonds

With a population of 234,000, Burnaby is the third-largest city in Metro Vancouver and in British Columbia. It has no single centre. City Hall sits in science fiction isolation beside tranquil Deer Lake and its park. Commercial and residential growth is focused in “town centres,” three of which are anchored by enormous shopping malls: Brentwood, Lougheed and especially Metrotown.

Edmonds, a fourth town centre, is the runt of the litter. I travelled there to measure its shapeKingsway 3 and size in summer 2014,  landing at Greenford Ave. and setting out along the south side of  Kingsway. Other than a block of shops on the north side, Kingsway seemed kind of a mess, mixing automotive lots with ageing towers.

I held out hope that Edmonds Street, narrower and quieter, would offer  more charm. Edmonds and Kingsway was the site of the first Burnaby municipal hall, built in 1899 when this was still a rural district. Edmonds Street, five kilometres east of Metrotown, has some of the makings of a village shopping street, supported by decent public transit and a stock of nearby walk-up apartment buildings. Continue reading


Kingsway, looking west from Nelson, Burnaby, B.C.Metrotown, a square-mile precinct in the City of Burnaby, was conceived as a zone of medium-to-high density development. It’s well-served by transit, has a huge variety of services within a walkable radius, and an ethnically diverse population of 25,000 or more. Its arterial streets and indoor shopping don’t warm my heart, but who knows what tomorrow may bring?

The city’s area plan describes Metrotown as “a town centre serving the southeast quadrant” of a municipality of 225,000. This is too modest. Metrotown’s key property, The Metropolis at Metrotown, is Canada’s second-largest enclosed shopping centre, with vast caverns of free parking and rapid transit lines stopping at the door.  The Metrotowers are home to the regional government and regional transportation authorities. Transit service and a location just outside the City of Vancouver have made the precinct a magnet for towers; it is currently booming, perhaps the most active site for property development in the Lower Mainland. Continue reading